From the railing of the overlook, the view is grand: Suwannee Springs - once a healing-water-destination for the infirm, with its now-crumbling stone walls - directly below us; and beyond, the meandering Suwannee River; and peeking out of the distant forest, an arc of the old retired trestle, reminding us that this spot had its heyday. Might there still be magic here? Maybe under a star-filled sky? John Moran and I were sure of it. For more than a year, we have been planning a nightscape photo-collaboration at Suwannee Springs.
Old Retired Trestle - now for foot traffic and graffiti artists.
For those not familiar: for the past decade, John and I have joined our talents to make a series of elaborately-lit dramatic night scenes - from swamps in the Everglades to springs in the FL Panhandle. You may have seen some in previous blogs, museum exhibits, books, and other publications. (Here are 3 illustrative photoblog posts from my archives: Nightscape, Earthly Eyes Aglow, Eye of the Aquifer.)
That's me on the J-pod during setup. Photo by John Moran
Starting well before sunset, we precisely set up our two homemade tripod ladders (johnnypods) - one for the camera, the other for a photographer to operate the camera without touching the camera's support. With the composition agreed upon, we locked the lens rings with tape, tightened the ballhead, and strap-braced the pods. Shortly after sunset, we made a series of base shots from light to dark, and then began to "paint" with light. Typically we take turns at the camera and at the lighting gear. We create a series of several hundred photos of our scene, each with different lighting - using flashlights, strobes, and underwater lights.
John lights the Spring Vent
John invented the JohnnyPod, a nature photography tripod on steroids ... mine's a close copy. He also has an eye-popping assortment of lighting gear. We both love the challenge of "MacGyvering" solutions to the problems that always arise, and our MacGyver wavelengths are definitely synergistic. These projects and evenings are always exhilarating (if also exhausting). Once we can't think of any other ways to light the scene, and think we've covered all the elements, we consider it a wrap. That was about 3:15 AM for this one. (Strong) young Oscar Psychas, John's neighbor, helped on this project - carrying a ton of gear from our remote vehicles. (Thanks Oscar.) In return, he got to enjoy the moonlit river and watch our process, even taking a turn with some of the lighting gear. Memories in the making. Thanks also to Anthony Ackrill for logistical help during an earlier scouting trip.
Cool golden mineral water flows up from underground limerock caves... not a blue spring.
Weir from the River, looking in
Rocks & Clouds
Waves of Gold
We don't use all of the frames in the final image. For example, a series of about 60 long exposures to capture the sequence of stars moving through the window of sky in our photo (for making star trails) got jettisoned (see below). Serendipity (always welcome) offered a lingering red glow in the lower sky as the stars were coming out. Working that into the picture out-ranked the star trails.
Star Trail Composite - Rejected
One of my jobs is to layer the frames in the digital darkroom (Photoshop), masking out the unwanted parts and blending the useful parts of each frame into a cohesive whole picture. It is like painting with collections of sort-of-similar pixels. While tedious (23 hours over a week for this one), it's a labor of love and learning. As layered versions evolve, we share them over the internet (John lives 150 miles from me), pore over the details, and strategize for the next version. Gradually the composite image comes alive and, voila! a final version! John then optimizes it for printing, using his extensive printing experience and equipment. People sometimes ask us, "what do you mean, collaboration? It's a photo." No, it is truly a complex joint effort.
Here is a one minute scroll through 250 frames (approximately the whole series - those used as well as those rejected):
Timelapse of Suwannee Springs Lighting
Putting that all together, we present the finished art:
Timeless Waters - Suwannee Springs by David Moynahan and John Moran
Thanks for visiting my photoblog. Please SHARE this link with all whom you think would enjoy it. And leave a comment below - I really appreciate every note. Until next month, stay cool... (Swimming holes abound)!